After a turbulent 2020 brought with it the coronavirus pandemic and a global call for social justice, companies prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion in its wake should start by reviewing their benefits plans to ensure there’s enough flexibility to meet the needs of these times and inclusivity for employees from all backgrounds, says Kim Siddall, People Corporation Inc.’s vice-president of enterprise consulting for the West.
“The pandemic has inadvertently ramped up some employers’ strategies around diversity with things like flexible work arrangements and remote work,” says Siddall, noting these new arrangements allow employees to shift their time at work during their day to handle personal responsibilities, such as helping children with remote learning or going to a medical appointment or to fit in fitness or religious observance, for example. “All those things also speak to diversity.”
Employers reviewing their DEI efforts can start by looking at the degree of flexibility and choice offered in their benefits plans, she says. They can consider implementing a flexible working plan if they don’t already have one, and if it’s too administratively cumbersome to add, they can provide choice by introducing a health-spending or flexible-spending account or include a suite of voluntary benefits from which plan members may choose to participate at their own expense.
As well, employers should look at their paid-time-off policies, such as personal days or floater days, more broadly as they’re good options that allow employees the ability to use those additional days for either caregiving or for the observance of religious holidays outside of those like Christmas or Easter, she points out.
Another important consideration for employers is the way they communicate with their employee population. She says they should choose a partner — an insurer or a vendor — that takes diversity and inclusion into consideration in areas such as with the language they use. Partner vendors should communicate in a way that keeps in mind sensitivity regarding pronouns or gender identification and in a way that allows for people who are neuroatypical or who have difficulty with language to easily navigate the enrolment process and claims submission.
Professional development, is another way to attract candidates who aren’t from traditional backgrounds, noted a recent blog post by Lever, a recruitment software company. The willingness to help employees learn new skills, languages and programs may help companies attract candidates from different economic and educational backgrounds, both of which can lead to diversity of thought and innovation.
“Now that things are stabilized in terms of getting people working remotely, it could be a good time for human resources teams to look at their benefits program and do a review with a diversity and inclusion lens,” says Siddall. She explains when plan sponsors review the various program offerings, they should consider whether they speak to all the potential permutations and combinations of people who may access them. “For instance, if you have maternity leave top up, does that also include surrogacy situations or same sex couples or adoption?”
She recommends employers do a more complete review of their benefits plans every two to three years and with the same sort of cadence they’d use to look at other HR policies to make sure they’re still up to date.